Get your fix with these football flicks
This is a busy time of year for football fans.
Amid the orgy of bowl games and impending NFL playoff matchups, the supply of pigskin on TV has been plentiful.
But, the Packers are off this week. That means a lot of casual fans will be looking for something different to do and diehards will be looking for a fix.
May we suggest a football movie?
With help from a few friends and the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com), we compiled this list of football movies -- some favorites and some flops -- to help pass the time.
"Friday Night Lights" (2004) -- Adapted from the book of the same name by H.G. "Buzz" Bissinger, this is a look at Permian High School team that captivates the tiny town of Odessa, Texas, where a successful prep football season is surpassed only by food, water and shelter on the necessity scale. Billy Bob Thornton plays coach Gary Gaines and you can see country singer Tim McGraw acting as well. Popcorn talk: Bissinger, who wrote a book about St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, lived in Shorewood for awhile.
"The Longest Yard" (1974; remake in 2005) -- The original, starring Burt Reynolds and Eddie Albert, is an all-time classic. The remake, starring Adam Sandler and Chris Rock, is serviceable at best. The story centers on a star football player who is incarcerated after a series of personal problems and has to deal with a sadistic warden who makes him lead a team of inmates in a tuneup game against the guards. Reynolds plays the role of veteran inmate / former football player Nate Scarborough in the remake. Popcorn talk: The climactic game in the original takes up 47 minutes of the film, which clocks in at 121 minutes.
"Remember the Titans" (2000) -- Football is the backdrop, but early 1970s race relations provide the primary storyline in this movie based on the integration of T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va. Denzel Washington plays coach Herman Boone, who gets his players to bond during training camp and fashions a championship-caliber team that suffers a setback when a star player is injured in a car accident. Popcorn talk: Disney took some license with this movie, which was filmed in Georgia rather than Virginia. In the movie Gary Bertier, played by Ryan Hurst, is injured before the championship game. In real life, Bertier played in the final game and was injured afterward.
"We are Marshall" (2006) -- A poignant tale about the aftermath of the 1970 plane crash that killed most of Marshall University's football team. Matthew McConaughey stars as head coach Jack Lengyel, who has to rebuild the program while the community around him heals. Bring some Kleenex for this one.
"Rudy" (1993) -- Take Rocky Balboa out of Philadelphia, shrink him to about half-size, drop him onto the Notre Dame campus and -- presto! -- you've got Daniel Ruettiger. This uplifting tale, starring Sean Astin in the title role, is enjoyable even for the many people who can't stand the Fighting Irish. Although they don't appear in a scene together, Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn both appear in the movie before hitting it big with "Swingers." Popcorn talk: When Rudy looks at the dress list, it contains the names of players who took part in Notre Dame's game against Air Force. Joe Montana led the Irish back from a 20-point deficit to a 31-30 victory. The first two names that Rudy points two belong to the two players who actually carried him off the field following his only appearance.
Any Given Sunday (1999) -- Directed by Oliver Stone, this star-studded flick looks at the seamy underside of pro football, focusing on the plight of the Miami Sharks and their legendary coach (Al Pacino), ambitious young owner (Cameron Diaz), aging star quarterback (Randy Quaid) and the up-and-coming third-stringer (Jamie Foxx) who replaces him. Popcorn talk: There are plenty of cameos by football legends, including Jim Brown, Lawrence Taylor, Dick Butkus, Y.A.Tittle, Warren Moon, Johnny Unitas and Terrell Owens. You can even see Charlton Heston playing the commissioner and Elizabeth Berkley of "Showgirls" fame spending time in the sheets with Pacino.
"Varsity Blues" (1999) -- A football movie for the MTV generation, this is also set in a football-crazy Texas town of West Cannan that is upended when the star quarterback is injured. John Moxon (James Van Der Beek of "Dawson's Creek" fame), is the intellectual backup who tastes his newfound stardom for a ride and then takes on the legendary coach (Jon Voigt). In one of the more memorable scenes in the movie, Darcy (Ali Larter) tries to seduce Moxon by wearing a whipped cream bikini. Though that scene was likely repeated by many moviegoers, the actress actually used shaving cream for the scene because the whipped cream wouldn't stay put.
"North Dallas Forty" (1979) -- Based on the book by Peter Gent, Nick Nolte and Mac Davis star in this dark, often funny look at a 1970s era pro team (likely based on the Dallas Cowboys). Popcorn talk: Oak Creek native John Matuszak, star of the powerhouse Raiders teams of the 1970s, has a role in film. Matuszak died 10 years after its release.
"Brian's Song" (1971) -- Originally shown on TV, this movie was so well-received that it got a theatrical release. The story of the friendship between Chicago Bears running backs Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams) and cancer-stricken Brian Piccolo (James Caan) can make even the toughest football fan cry. Popcorn talk: The interior of Sayers' house may look familiar. It was the set used for Darrin and Samantha's house in Bewitched." Caan's son, Scott, had a role in "Varsity Blues."
"All the Right Moves" (1983) -- Before he went bonkers and started jumping on couches, Tom Cruise was a ruggedly athletic leading man. In this film, he plays a promising linebacker trying to use football as his ticket out of a depressing steel mill town in Pennsylvania. Popcorn talk: Director Michael Chapman sent Cruise and co-star Lea Thompson to high schools in order to prepare for the role. Cruise, who had starred in "Taps" was recognized instantly. Thompson lasted four days, was asked out several times and was even caught smoking.
"The Waterboy" (1998) -- In another of his silly but successful movies, Adam Sandler plays slow-witted Bobby Bouchard, Jr., a waterboy for a college team who discovers an uncanny ability to tackle. Popcorn talk: This film got a boost at the box office because it was preceded by the trailer for Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace. Many fans of the Star Wars movies paid admission, watched the trailer and left.
"Knute Rockne All-American" (1940) -- The story of the legendary Notre Dame coach, played by Pat O'Brien, features future President of the United States Ronald Reagan as running back George Gipp, who inspired the "Win one for the Gipper," speech. Popcorn talk: This and "Rudy" are the only movies filmed on the Notre Dame campus. James Cagney, tired of being a gangster, tried to win the title role but was rejected because he had signed a petition supporting the anti-Catholic Republican government in the Spanish Civil War.
"Jerry Maguire" (1996) -- The title character, played by Tom Cruise, is a sports agent who loses his job and most of his money after undergoing a moral epiphany. Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.) is his loyal client, a loudmouth wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals. Popcorn talk: It's hard to tell whether the best part of this movie is Gooding's "Show me the money" dance or Kelly Preston's initial line of dialogue. Of course, it could be Jay Mohr's portrayal of sleazy agent Bob Sugar.
"School Ties" (1992) -- David Green (Brendan Fraser), a standout Jewish athlete, is recruited to play football at an elite prep school in the 1950s. Everything goes fine until his secret is revealed to his classmates. Popcorn talk: This movie launched the careers of Fraser, Matt Damon, Chris O'Donnell and Ben Affleck.
"Radio" (2003) -- Based on the true story of a South Carolina high school coach (Ed Harris) who protects a handicapped young man (Cuba Gooding Jr.) from being abused by players. The man, known as "Radio," becomes a popular assistant for the team and a symbol for the town. Popcorn talk: The movie is based on Sports Illustrated story by Gary Smith about James Robert Kennedy (Radio) and coach Harold Jones.
"Johnny B Good" (1988) -- Standout quarterback Johnny Walker (Anthony Michael Hall) experiences the excesses of stardom while on the college recruiting trail. Popcorn talk: Robert Downey, Jr., who worked with Hall on Saturday Night Live, plays his sidekick Leo and lovely Uma Thurman makers her big-screen debut as Walker's girlfriend, Georgia.
"The Last Boy Scout" (1991) -- This story stretches the imagination as a burned-out detective (Bruce Willis) teams with an ex-football player (Damon Wayans) to uncover corruption between a politician and a football franchise owner. Popcorn talk: The script was written by Shane Black, who also wrote "Lethal Weapon." Black got $1 million for it, which means that some studio executive screwed up big-time.
"Little Giants" (1994) -- Danny O'Shea (Rick Moranis), who has lived in the shadow of his brother Kevin (Ed O'Neill) all his life, takes over a group of misfit kids and molds them into a championship pee-wee football team. Popcorn talk: This movie was inspired by a McDonald's commercial that ran during the Super Bowl. Steve Spielberg loved the ad so much he enlisted its creator, Jim Ferguson, to write the script for this movie.
"Playmakers" (2003) -- Another ESPN production, this short-lived series focused not on the field but on the behind-the-scenes happenings that are often more interesting. The NFL didn't like it very much, so the series wasn't renewed. Popcorn talk: Canadian actress Thea Andrews must have impressed the suits at ESPN with her work. She ended up doing a stint on "Cold Pizza" and then got hired as anchor / writer / producer for "ESPN Hollywood," which was doomed from its inception.
"The Program (1993)" -- Just about every college football cliché in the book gets trotted out in this film, but actors like James Caan, Halle Berry and Omar Epps make it watchable. Popcorn talk: Initially, the film contained a scene where several football players lay down on a busy street. The scene was cut when several people were injured trying to copy the stunt.
"The Replacements" (2000) -- Not even an appearance by Gene Hackman, one of America's finest actors, can save this movie. Maybe that's because he's playing opposite Keanu Reeves. Or, it could be that the premise -- misfits recruited to play pro ball when the real players are on strike -- is pretty lame to begin with. Popcorn talk: Reeves put on 23 pounds to play the role of quarterback Shane Falco. Jon Favreau appears as another big lunkhead. The best part of the movie might be the lovely Brooke Langton.
"Heaven Can Wait" (1978) -- This is a remake of the 1941 movie "Here Comes Mr. Jordan," with the protagonist being a quarterback instead of a boxer. Warren Beatty plays promising quarterback Joe Pendleton, who is killed and reincarnated in the body of a recently-murdered millionaire. Pendleton then buys his old team, the Rams, and becomes their quarterback while only his affable coach Max Corkle (Jack Warden) is in the know. This well-made movie features hilarious turns by Charles Grodin and Dyan Cannon as the would-be murderers. Popcorn talk: Beatty's character leads the Rams to the Super Bowl against Pittsburgh. Game action was filmed at halftime of the Rams/Chargers preseason game on Sept. 1, 1977. The Super Bowl following the movie's release pitted the Rams against the Steelers.
"Necessary Roughness" (1991) -- Facing NCAA sanctions, Texas State University is forced to field a team made up of "regular" students. As a result, the Armadillos end up with a 34-year-old quarterback (Scott Bakula) and a female kicker (Kathy Ireland) and, of course, Sinbad. Popcorn talk: If you get tired of counting clichés, you can look for cameos by a host of NFL stars.
"The Best of Times" (1986) -- Haunted by a loss in a high school game, Jack Dundee (Robin Williams) and Reno Hightower (Kurt Russell) take a bizarre path toward redemption. Popcorn talk: This movie didn't do very well commercially despite a decent script written by Ron Shelton, who also wrote "Bull Durham."
"Wildcats" (1986) -- Molly McGrath (Goldie Hawn) is a high school track coach who dreams of coaching football. When the chance arises, she inherits a team of goofballs and beats the odds. Popcorn talk: Filmed in Chicago at Lane Technical High School, this movie represented the screen debut of Wesley Snipes.
"1st and Ten" (1984-'90) -- This HBO series about the fictitious California Bulls featured a lot of cheesy gags and topless actresses with a little football sprinkled in. It's available on DVD, but it's hard to imagine why anyone would bother. Popcorn talk: In addition to Christopher Meloni and Kevin Sorbo, one of the guys who appeared on this series was O.J. Simpson.
"The Junction Boys" (2002) -- ESPN produced (and then over-promoted) this story of legendary coach Paul "Bear" Bryant's first training camp at Texas A&M. Tom Berenger plays Bryant as a gruff, troubled taskmaster. Popcorn talk: The film is supposed to take place on the Texas plains, but as actually filmed in Australia.
"Something for Joey" (1977) -- Based on the relationship between Penn State football player John Cappelletti and his younger brother, Joey, who has leukemia. Popcorn talk: Future Beastmaster Marc Singer, whose sister Lori starred in "Footloose," played John Cappelletti while Steve Guttenberg made his debut as a Cappelletti brother.
This made me realize how many truly awful football movies there are out there. However, there are a few diamonds in the rough from that list. I remember watching a show on ESPN about sports movies and all of the NFL players interviewed stated "North Dallas Forty" was supposedly the most accurate portrayal of the league. Yikes.
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